President Obama's Afghanistan policy raises some serious questions (more on those in a moment), but to see why it has a decent chance of working, it helps to visit the town of Nawa in southern Afghanistan's Helmand River Valley. I was there in October and found that 1,000 Marines who had arrived during the summer had already made substantial strides.
When the Marines got there, Nawa was practically a ghost town.
"It was strangled by the Taliban," Lt. Col. William McCollough, the boyish commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, told me. "Anyone who was here was beaten, taxed, intimidated."
The Marines provided security, and the town sprang back to life, with schools opening, shops doing a bustling business and trucks bringing in goods. The residents of Nawa, like most Afghans, were happy to be free of the Taliban and their theocratic decrees.
But McCollough cautioned that the progress was as fragile as an eggshell. In particular, he worried about the dark pull exerted by Marjah, less than 10 miles away. A town of 50,000 people, Marjah has long been a haven of opium smugglers and insurgents who terrorize the surrounding area.
Commanders at Camp Leatherneck, the headquarters of 10,000 Marines operating in Helmand province, realize that it is essential to take Marjah, just as it was essential to take Fallouja and Ramadi in Iraq. But they also know-or rather they knew when I visited-that they didn't have enough infantry to achieve that objective.